Venue: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Production Run: Tue 6 - Sat 24 Feb 2017

Performance Reviewed: Wed 7 Feb 2017 (Press Night)

Few shows can you go into knowing almost exactly what to expect more so than with Mamma Mia! Doubly so if you are one of the millions who made the 2008 Meryl Streep Hollywood adaptation the mega hit that it was (and prompted this Summer’s hotly-anticipated sequel). It’s light, frothy, feel-good and laugh-out-loud funny, all set to sun, sea and the sound of ABBA. And yet, for any presumptions and suppositions, this first ever UK tour of Mamma Mia! - which sets up a sun lounger in Wolverhampton this week -  comes laden with surprises and joys, although so too does it inherit the movie’s penchant for a couple of questionable casting choices.

For the most part though, everything here works joyfully. Following the story of young Sophie (a still-impressive Lucy May Barker) who has grown up on a Greek island idyll with her mother Donna (Helen Hobson), the young bride-to-be attempts to discover the truth behind her parentage mere days before her wedding to handsome beau Sky (a chiselled and charming Phillip Ryan). The only problem is, there are three potential candidates of fatherhood from a particularly illicit Summer of broken hearts, romantic boat trips and ‘dot, dot, dots’. 

And so Sam (Jon Boydon), Harry (Jamie Hogarth) and Bill (Christopher Hollis) all rock up to the island, much to Donna’s bemusement, but at least she has sterling support in the form of best friends and ex-bandmates Rosie (multiple understudy Rebecca Seale, impressing) and Tanya (Emma Clifford) to help her, the former all big personality and even bigger clutziness, the latter a man-eating, mojito-swilling, nip-tuck delight. 

And then of course there are the songs. Mamma Mia! is a toe-tapping reminder of just how many fantastic pop tracks ABBA churned out, with a slew of fun, vibrant set pieces accompanying classics such as ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Money, Money, Money’, ‘Souper Trouper’ and of course its titular anthem. When the band and ensemble are in full swing, storming the stage to the kinetic pulse of ‘Voules-Vouz’ and ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’, it’s sheer disco-on-stage heaven.

It’s a shame, then, that some of the central casting is a little wobbly this time round, having previously been stellar across-the-board. Jon Boydon is in fine voice as Sam, but he exudes little of the charisma or machismo of the character to see why he continues to hold such a flame in Donna’s heart. Speaking of whom, Helen Hobson acquits herself as a capable actress, but she lacks any of the sass, fire or spark of the character, and coupled with fairly weak vocals throughout the night (particularly on the title song and 'Winner Takes It All') made for a very plodding, pedestrian take on what should be a fiery, spunky, belter of a role.

Thankfully, the young cast and supporting adults keep things vibrant and energised. Christopher Hollis is great fun as backpacking Aussie writer Bill, whilst Jamie Hogarth is a perpetual delight as the camp, well-meaning Harry. Emma Clifford is delicious as sultry, triple-divorcee Tanya, commanding the stage with every strut, side eye or slinky dance move. She also benefits from one of the show’s best realised set pieces in ‘Does Your Mother Know’, which she duly goes to town with, but is aided immensely by the hugely talented and charismatic Louis Stockil, who threatens to steal every scene his wise-cracking, body-popping Pepper pops up in.

Mark Thompson and Jonathan Allen’s relatively simplistic yet surprisingly versatile set design marries with Howard Harrison’s lighting to create a convincing Mediterranean ambiance, whilst resident director Nikki Davis-Jones has clearly had fun imbuing some of the smaller moments and segues with characters beats and extra nuances of comedy.

With the show having commanded a spot in the West End for over two decades, all eyes were on Mamma Mia! to deliver in this, its very first UK tour, and for the past couple of years it has done exactly that. It’s campy, silly and goofy, and about as far from the likes of Sondheim or Schönberg as you can get, but that’s kind of the point. With a veritable onslaught of pop classics, an ensemble of supremely likeable characters, some terrific, vibrant staging and choreography, an island-load of eye candy and sex appeal, and a mostly terrific cast and ensemble who nail (almost) every laugh, step and note, Mamma Mia! is one of the ultimate feel-good musical theatre experiences out there.

Those allergic to the songs of ABBA may do best to steer clear, but for everyone else, it is not only better than the movie by some measure, but a joyous, vibrant and thoroughly entertaining escape to a magical island that many will find themselves yearning to return to for many years to come.

So to the powers that be, thank you for the musical, and to the people of Wolverhampton and beyond - go see it!

Knowing me, knowing you, you’ll love it.

RATING - ★★★★

Tickets: 01902 429 212  / Official Website: click​